Society in India and Pakistan, 1
Based on the procedings of the seminar "The
Role Of Civil Society in Pakistan and India:
Peace, Conflict Resolution, Democracy" by Jang Group of Newspapers
(Pakistan) & Friedrich/Naumann Foundation (Germany), September
12-13, 1997 at Pearl Continental Hotel, Karachi.
Text edited by Khurram Ali Shafique and Farida Z.
present state of civil society in Pakistan and India
with special emphasis on the impact
of caste system and traditional values as well as social practices
which impinge on respect for human dignity
Dr. Manzoor Ahmad
Dr. Sri Ram Khanna
Mr. Abdullah J. Memon
Dr. Hamza Alvi
V. Raju (India)
Quotes from the
Under certain circumstances individual
freedom must accept restrains.
Harmony and conflict are part of life
more so of life in a society. And in a complex and diverse
society like India it would be utopian to look for conditions
of perfect harmony.
My right to pursue my life and ambitions
is restricted by the others right to pursue their life
and ambitions. And what is true of individuals is also true
If we have been able to survive as a nation
admittedly bumbling along and way behind in economic
development when compared to the communist China I
would say it is because we are a democracy [and] have the
opportunity every now and then to change government. And because
we are a democracy we have a vibrant civil society. We prefer
this path to that of dictatorship.
If at all we are looking forward to some
kind of a future, it is perhaps because of the activities
of voluntary organisations.
S.V. Raju Editor, Freedom First focused
on "An overview of the civil society in India: a personal interpretation."
Refraining from quoting others he underlined the personal nature
of his overview by stating that it has become a favourite pastime
now "to quote scripture (using the word in its
secular and not religious sense) for supporting this and that view
of ours without believing in that scripture ourselves, let alone
practising the spirit of the scripture.
While describing himself as "a
liberal with a capital L" Mr. Raju, however accepted that a
liberal government must not mean a weak government, rather a government
that could ensure the rule of law and create conditions where the
individual citizen has the opportunities to develop and which could
also attend to the basic needs pertaining to the infra-structure:
primary health, energetic policies for population control and primary
education. "But what we dont desire is a meddlesome government
that would keep interfering with what is the domain of the people:
the domain of the civil society.
He also mentioned that different groups
living in a heterogeneous society, each pursuing their own secular
or religious goals, must remain prepared to make adjustments in
their goals so as not to intrude upon the goals of the others
i.e. what may be described as "interdependence in freedom."
Mr. Rajus personal overview of
the Indian civil society presents the picture of an essentially
open society with (1) great freedom of press ("We dont
have paparazis yet but we are not far away), (2) a system of franchise
that yields generally free and fair elections (with, of course,
some exceptions particularly in what they call "bemaroo"
states, i.e. Bihar, Madhiapradesh, Rajhasthan and Uttarpradesh),
and (3) a reasonably good situation of law and order.
On the darker side, there are
other factors that constitute threat to the civil society. These
are described by him as the following. Lure for power. The leaders
are prepared to any degree of humiliation as long as they can
ensure that they would be included in the ministry. A case in
point is the Chief Minister Lallu Prasad Yadav. When he was
sent to jail by a court on the charges of frauds, he had the
cheek to appoint his wife as a chief minister to ensure
that upon his return he gets back his position. In another state,
a couple of totally dissimilar parties were seen entering into
coalition to share government on a six monthly rotation
of course, when the time came for the other party to take over
after six months, the coalition ran into troubles.
Large scale corruption, which
has not only destroyed the credibility of the politician but
of the polity itself. Candidates spend huge sums provided by
businessmen who treat these sums as investments which must provide
returns. "In recent years, criminals have not found it
necessary to have front-men as their candidates and have offered
themselves as candidates and have got elected." The press
is full, not just of stories like two gangsters forming political
parties in Bombay, but also of the data on criminals in all
parties who have been convicted or charged but have still managed
it to the assemblies.
Delayed justice and its denial to some
in the jail without trial. Since the independence, the legal system
has become a web of laws and by-laws so that a common citizen who
goes to the court in search of justice soon finds himself in an
enmesh of legal entangles that may go on for years. On the other
hand there is a general disregard for the human being and his rights
in a civil society "which not only results in jail without
trial but also numerous custodial deaths that are often hushed up
rarely are officers tried, found guilty and punished for
Communal disturbance is an issue which,
according to Mr. Raju, is generally related to the first problem.
"The Babri Masjid episode in my view was a calculated attempt
to secure Hindu support [adopted] as a short-cut by a political
party." On the other hand, as can be seen in the famous Shah
Bano Case of the late eighties, "the desire to secure the Muslim
vote led the ruling party under pressure from the fundamentalist
Muslims to pass amendment in the parliament to undo a Supreme
Court decision granting alimony to divorced Muslim women."
"In spite of the failing of the
state, or perhaps because of the failings of the state, civil society
is driving towards an increasingly participatory democracy."
As governments fail to fulfil their
roles in solving these problems, voluntary organisations or NGOs
are emerging in thousands "either to take on the work that
the governments failed to do, or compel governments to do the work
they were elected to do." The spectrum covered by these NGOs
is wide: non-formal education, social problems (such as conflicts
caused by the wide-spread violence), drug abuse, alcoholism, breakdown
of families, health, womens empowerment, drinking water, income-generation,
re-tooling (which is becoming a very important thing in the post-liberation
period), philanthropy, consumer education, consumer protection,
cancer research, AIDS prevention, combating superstition, and so
There is hardly any field of activity where you will not
find one or the other voluntary organisation, and, generally, people
are responding and stepping in.
A very distinct feature of the Indian
civil society is the emerging role of women in solving their own
and the others problems many village panchayats
are being run by women, and they appear to be doing a much better
job than men. "It is not a meherbani that we, the men
are giving them. They are now demanding it and getting it."
Indeed, they are far from being proxies. Rabri Devi Yadav, the wife
of Lallu Prasad Yadav, is one proof that the ingenuity required
by a housewife to run a home is
being put to a very good
use to run a state administration."
In case of the Dallits, Dr. Raju is
of the opinion that the reservations provided by the constitution-makers
for a fixed period were a good strategy for uplifting the depressed
classes. Even though such reservations have now become vote-getting
machines they have also helped a long-forgotten class to rise up
from the dust. The President of India belongs to the depressed class,
and he is also a highly qualified and competent person. Incidentally,
Lallu Yadav Prasad also belongs to the same class but Dr. Raju pointed
out that the charges of fraud against him should not be relevant
to any discussion on the participation of the depressed classes
because Brahmins like Rajiv Gandhi have also been accused of similar
Trade unions even if one may
accuse them of becoming a headache for the industries have
succeeded up to a great extent in securing the rights of the labour
and some of them have come up with extremely organised research
on relevant issues.
The future, therefore, is hopeful.
The civil society is on the rise to maintain and increase liberalism
the likely outlook of the nation, even if the governments fail to
do so. And the civil society itself is now being joined by those
classes that have remained peripheral in the history of India: the
women, the depressed classes, and the labour.
Quotes from the
Why does the west have civil
societies whereas we, in the East, have failed to develop
Ideologies are coercive. If you want to
develop societies please for Gods sake in so far as
the state is concerned try to avoid ideologies.
Civil society cannot develop if you have
a basically feudal structure in a country.
This population shift [from villages to
cities] has made it possible for people to speak about issues
related to civil society.
Number of voluntary groups working in Pakistan
is amazing. And also the number of good voluntary groups is
amazing. And the type of sacrifices they are making.
I always differentiate between theologies
and Islam and religion.
If intellectual activity does not start
in countries like India and Pakistan then civil society does
not have any future.
In a country like Pakistan when the feudals
and the bureaucrats join hands together then that is the worst
kind of despotism.
Dr. Manzoor Ahmad presented a backdrop
to the civil society in Pakistan, more from a "conceptual"
milieu than a "descriptive" one.
Even though the word "civil society" is
of a more recent origin some people say Hegel used it for
the first time nevertheless it can be dated back to the time
of the Greek philosophy, where it was used basically to distinguish
between different types of governments, such as the despotic government,
monarchy and democracy. For instance, in a despotic government the
gap between the ruler and the people is too wide and the despot
rules by fiat rather than by any rule: the public is under the direct
gaze of the despot. Democracies, on the other hand, are said to
be the type of government where there is a middle buffer
the civil society.
Dr. Manzoor expressed reservations about some of
the differences listed by other scholars between the East and the
West. For instance, Edward Saeed, in Orientalism, states
that the difference between the Oriental and the Occidental (Western)
thinking is that the West is rational, while the East is lazy. Others
have stated that the Eastern societies were "hydraulic societies"
arid areas require water management that can best be achieved
through strong centralised governments. Civil societies, on the
contrary, have developed mostly in bourgeoisie set-ups as a crucial
requirement of those economies. According to the views presented
by Max Weber, religion would be counted as one of the impediments
for the development of civil societies in areas like Pakistan.
Dr. Manzoors basic disagreement with
such theories is that "when they include Islam in the Orient
they make a mistake." The role Islam played in Spain and the
Mediterranean regions brings it out as an occidental religion rather
than an oriental one. Christianity, on the other hand, can more
easily be classified as an oriental religion that only in its later
phase developed ideas like Protestantism, etc., which helped development
of the free individual and the civil society.
The central question asked by Dr. Manzoor is this:
How come that a country like Pakistan basically a Muslim
country and other Islamic countries could not develop a civil
society? The implication is that Islam being an occidental religion,
the Muslim societies should have followed a similar course as the
Western societies (Edward Saeed says that the clearest differentiation
mark between the lazy Oriental thinking and the rational Occidental
thinking is the growth of civil societies under the latter.)
One possible reason is provided by certain scholars:
Muslim rule could not develop legitimate opposition. Morally it
was correct to say a brave word before the monarch but theological
it wasnt very correct unless you were sure you would be able
to change the society and bring order. That was a tall demand and
no opposition could legitimately undertake to fulfil it.
When one comes to the situation in Pakistan, there
is a peculiar syndrome to be observed. Dr. Ahmad describes it through
the following parameters:
- Any state that is desired to be established on
an ideology is likely to become coercive and intolerant, no
matter what that ideology is. Even if you take democracy as
an ideology it would becomes coercive and intolerant because
you start looking at the world from your perspective. Then you
may start movements in those countries that are doing very well
you may start insurgencies in those countries, as is
happening in the world today.
- "Theology, when it makes goodness in a
society dependant on a fiat or an order, is another reason for
the non-development of civil societies in countries like Pakistan."
In Islamic history a particular modality, a particular type
of theology was adopted that Dr. Ahmad calls "the theology
of command and obedience that a particular thing is good
because it has been commanded and another thing is unlawful
or not good because it has not been commanded." (It is
an old question: somebody asks in a dialogue of Plato whether
something is good because God has commanded it or whether God
has commended it because it is good.)
- Certain elements of the local society (essentially
Oriental) found their way to Islam when that Occidental religion
came to the regions now known Pakistan and India. The local
Oriental society "was a society in which there was a caste
system and the Brahmin was the ruling class." It was very
conducive to the Muslim governors to adopt this feature of the
local society so that they could replace the Brahmin whom every
one naturally obeyed. Another Oriental aspect that Islam borrowed
from the local society was mysticism. While it has its positive
values it has nevertheless at least two elements that are not
conducive to the development of civil society: (a) master-disciple
paradigm, where the disciple has to obey whatever the master
says ("You have to dip the prayer-mat in wine if the master
says so"), and (b) a tendency towards inactivity, mostly
through a belief in fate: if fate decides all, and if fate is
inevitable, then there is no sense in organised effort to change
- A particular type of feudalism, where the feudals
were placed in their position for particular reasons. "The
feudalism we have here is totally anti-democratic, anti-education,
anti-everything quite unlike the one that they had in
the Britain in the good old days which, in fact, caused the
industrial revolution." Micheal Foucault makes an interesting
observation: power and knowledge combine together. Since knowledge
is also a tool for power, especially in the modern world, the
groups in power in countries like Pakistan acquire sophisticated
knowledge but keep the public deprived of knowledge in order
to keep them powerless. In this manner even democracies can
become "very, very coercive. And coercion in democracy
comes through the bureaucracy."
On the positive side, Dr. Ahmad pointed out certain things happening
in India and Pakistan that auger well for the development of civil
- Demographic structures are changing. In 1947,
the population ratio between villages and cities was approximately
80 : 20. Now cities contain more than 5